The Deep Space Nine documentary delves into what was and what could have been
After a long period without any Trek on our screens, the franchise has seen a resurgence lately with the bold prequel series Discovery and with excitement building for the return of one of the most cherished figures in this universe in Picard. Moving forward has always been part of Trek DNA, but this new documentary looks back at the most distinct (and frankly best) entry to the Trek-verse, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. A show that delved into the grey of Rodenberry’s creation, pushing the franchise and TV in general to another level.
From directors Ira Steven Behr (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine showrunner) and David Zappone (producer of For the Love of Spock, The Captains) comes the critically acclaimed documentary feature What We Left Behind: Looking Back at Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. A fascinating in-depth look at the past, present and future of a series whose dark, edgy take on Gene Roddenberry’s vision was often misunderstood when it premiered but has grown into a beloved mainstay in the Star Trek franchise. Featuring extensive new interviews with the cast and crew of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine as well as newly remastered HD footage from the television series, What We Left Behind also focuses on the original writers of the series as they craft a brand-new episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, developing what would be the eighth-season premiere if the show were to return to the air today.
Let’s get something straight: this isn’t some generic documentary, nor is it some mawkish fan-led tribute. It’s directed and driven by former showrunner Ira Steven Behr, whose presence brings access to much of the former cast (main and supporting), as well as many other key talents. Behr is the perfect storyteller, a quirky sort that directs the doc away from a simple ‘making of’ effort and into one that flows in a natural non-linear way. Behr moves from story to story and character to character with a natural ease.
Avery Brooks (Captain Benjamin Sisko) is largely absent in terms of new material, but effort is made to ensure his contributions and legacy are well framed. The rest of the cast and crew involved share frank and frequently warm stories about their work on the show and with each other, as well as the efforts to address issues of politics, race, sexuality, and more. There’s an undeniable appreciation of the weight they bore, knowing that through the medium of sci-fi, they could raise social issues and push boundaries unlike other genres, while being beholden to Gene Roddenberry’s legacy, the fans, and society.
While the focus is (rightly) on the characters, the film does tackle production and plot elements, such as the development and introduction of the Defiant and the Dominion, which left such a mark on the show, as well as the evolution of key characters over seven years. There’s even a brilliant a reunion of writers Behr, Hans Beimler, Ronald D. Moore, René Echevarria, and Robert Hewitt Wolfe, who work together, aided by a animated sequence, to posit where an eighth season may have taken the show. Those assembled do recollect the difficulties they often faced with embracing more progressive ideas, touching on pushback from fans and even Paramount, uncertain at the direction the show was taking, from creative decisions as complex as a character’s sexuality or as simple as allowing Avery Brooks to grow a goatee. Behr and several of the actors also delve into where the show came up short, or where punches were pulled. The former is largely embodied by Andrew Robinson (Garak) revealing his yearnings to have gotten deeper into the relationship between his character and Julian Bashir (Alexander Siddig). Another heightened moment comes from Terry Farrell (Jadzia Dax) emotionally unloading about her departure at the end of the sixth season and the push she was given by a studio executive. It’s this “warts and all” approach that really gives the documentary a depth and insight that is so often lacking in these ventures.
One of the cool aspects of the documentary is the opportunity to glimpse what the show would look like in HD thanks to those who helped fund the doc. Below is an example of one such scene, and the show looks simply glorious. Sadly, due to the exorbitant costs of such a restoration and other issues well documented here, it’s unlikely we’ll ever see the entire show get the makeover it deserves.
The transfer shows off the documentary in crisp and clean detail, with natural hues throughout. The quality is more apparent during the animated sequences. The release also showcases the HD sequences (above) very nicely indeed. Special features are where the release truly shines:
- An Intro from Ira: A playful intro from the main man, revealing some of the challenges in building this documentary.
- A Brief History of Deep Space Nine featurette: A short but effective summation of the show and it’s various themes and story arcs.
- What We Left Out — Deleted Scenes: 17 scenes total from episodes throughout the show’s run.
- Behind the Scenes at the Variety photoshoot featurette: Little bit of banter between the assembled cast.
- HD Remaster Discussion with the filmmakers: A really interesting breakdown about the idea of a HD remaster of the show, and the efforts through crowdfunding to try and get parts of it done for this documentary. Legal and technical issues are covered.
- More from the Fans featurette: Short, often touching or amusing interviews with fans offering up their memories of the show and how it impacted their lives.
- Theatrical Trailer
Shout! Factory are also releasing a What We Left Behind Two-Disc Special Edition with the following extra extra features
- A Roundtable Look at The Making of the Documentary: a 50-minute discussion with co-director and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine showrunner Ira Steven Behr, co-director David Zappone, producer Kai de Mello-Folsom, producer/editor Joseph Kornbrodt and producer/editor Luke Snailham.
- A Musical Reunion with Composers Dennis McCarthy and Kevin Kiner
The Bottom Line
What We Left Behind goes a long way to capturing why Deep Space Nine resonated with so many, not just fans but for everyone who worked on the show too. Insights into the past, reflections on missteps, and bonds strengthened by time show the warmth and care that went into crafting this distinct and progressive work. There’s plenty here to please even the most ardent DS9 fan, and perhaps convert some of those who fail to appreciate the efforts and achievements made by this black sheep of the Star Trek family.
What We Left Behind, Looking Back at Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, is available on Blu-ray, DVD and Digital August 6th, 2019, from Shout! Studios.